A controversial crack pipe exchange program has turned out to be something of a rocky success story.
Intended to reduce HIV transmission among crack smokers and supported by the city’s HIV Prevention Planning Council, the program was quickly shot down by both the Mayor’s office and the Department of Health. Independent advocates quickly tok up the cause, which was underwritten by an anonymous donor.
Now the rogue program has handed out 200 crack smoking kits that include clean glass pipes and sanitary wipes, while still running the risk of being shut down by SFPD for distribution or possession of drug paraphernalia. The kits cost about a buck a piece and until now the group has simply been handing them out on the street.
“Our goal is to demonstrate that you can do this and all hell won’t break loose,” drug user, Tenderloin resident and program advocate Isaac Jackson told the Examiner this week.
Now that the effort has been successful in their goal (of handing out free drug paraphernalia), the program is set to expand to a brick-and-mortar location next week at St. James Infirmary, an occupational safety and health clinic that mainly provides health services to sex workers. Update: St. James Infirmary's executive directory Stephany Ashley tells SFist via email that SJI was "unaware of any plans" to host the Urban Survivors League's distribution program at their facility. "While the SJI is supportive of crack pipe distribution as a public health intervention, we do not have any concrete plans to provide that service."
Even with a bigger operation, at 200 pipes handed out in the past two months, the clean pipe initiative is still insignificant compared to the city's needle exchange program, which provides over 2.7 million clean syringes a year.